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Artificial Intelligence, News, Technology

Robots at Home: Smart Homes

Kenton Reynolds

Kenton Reynolds, Writer
@uxconnections

In this series we are taking a look at the state of domestic robots and how close we are to robots being a common feature of the home. In our final piece of this collection, we look at how we can tie all of the different gadgets from around the house together in the Smart Home.

When you watch Iron Man for the first time and see Stark Mansion in all its glory, what is it that impresses you? Is it the luxury – the cars, the decorations, the priceless details – or is it the technology – the self opening curtains, the security systems, the robot helpers? For me it was neither: it was the seamlessness. The mansion is set up with countless routines and systems that make day to day life smooth and anything out of the ordinary is managed by a voice assistant, JARVIS, who is everywhere and always listening. In my eyes, ignoring the whole “part of JARVIS becoming sentient and an evil mastermind”, Stark Mansion is the epitome of what a smart home can be.

So how can you achieve this ultimate smart home without being a billionaire genius, inventing a supersuit of armor and becoming one of Earth’s mightiest heroes? It starts with choosing an ecosystem, probably the most important choice in the creation of your futuristic household. Right now, there are essentially three choices: Google, Apple or Amazon. If you have an iPhone and enjoy iOS then Apple’s HomeKit is probably the best choice; however this will limit you in some ways. There’s less variety in your choice of peripheral devices and you can expect to be paying the premium price tag too (though this is typical for Apple). Android users are blessed with more choice, generally products work with both Google and Alexa as well as having extra devices that span the price ranges. The UI may not be quite as intuitive as Apple’s offering, but the larger choice is a good payoff for the sacrifice.

Now we’re on to looking at the aforementioned external devices that will provide the automation to your home. To cover all of the possibilities, I would need pages upon pages. Instead, we will focus on a few of the more common routines you could set up in your smart home. The most common is the “Wake Up” routine. Before bed you can tell your hub – whether that’s an Amazon Echo, Google Nest or Apple HomePod – to wake you up at your desired time. In the morning, we want light and the alarm can then trigger a Motorised Curtain U Rail 2 to let in the sunrise as your alarm wakes you up. Lights in the rooms you always need – bedroom, bathroom, kitchen – can then turn on through the use of smart bulbs like the Phillips Hue as you’re guided to the kitchen where the Smart Kettle has already boiled.

Another is routines upon leaving and returning to the home. Upon leaving you can say goodbye to your hub and the lights can all be turned off. You can set your Roomba to clean whilst you’re out, ideal for avoiding getting in the way of your hoover-pet and it means you will come back to a tidier house. To ensure your home is safe while you are out, a Smart Keyless Door Handle along with an alarm system will do this as well as keeping you informed through notifications and video interface. Another way to keep your home safe is with the Amazon Astro, a little bot that will patrol your house and keep connected to your other devices. When you get back home and let your virtual assistant know you’re back you can be greeted with a similar routine to your wakeup – just the right lights being already on, the kettle boiling, and so on. Moreover, you can even alert the house before you get back which comes in incredibly handy if you introduce the Hive heating system which could have your home toasty warm for when you get back.

One of the larger problems with trying to set up your smart home is quite simple: the cost. It can be extremely expensive for the devices and has to be built upon a good infrastructure; excellent Wi-Fi is vital. There are a few ways around overpaying or to tide you over until you can afford to buy all the devices that you want. Primarily, we have SwitchBots. These little automated, motorized bots simply press switches but they connect to your smart home and thus can essentially make any device smart. The SwitchBot is able to click on, flick back to off or hold a button down. Another great workaround is the NFC tag. These little stickers cost a few pence each and can streamline all the automation in your home through the smartphone. They are easily programmable and just make your daily life that little bit easier.

With this we are wrapping up the Robots at Home series. As promising as they are, we are still a distance from robots becoming commonplace in the average home. In some areas, especially the robot hoovers, we seem pretty close but others, like the Tesla Bots, more development is needed. But truly the biggest barrier right now is the hefty price tag that almost all of the products that we’ve discussed have carried. More producers are needed with innovative ideas and to increase the supply in order to drive down the price of bots and make them more affordable for the average consumer.

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